[Burns'] His beautifully written book, rich in pen portraits, anecdote and description, is also a meticulous record of three and a half decades of diplomatic history ... The patriotism, steady nerves and logic-defying optimism that characterised Burns’s career have not left him.
Much like the author himself: thorough, measured, articulate, and, above all, diplomatic ... Burns’ front row seat at so many pivotal events in American foreign policy has an almost Forrest Gump quality. He was in the situation room when Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden, and he flew from Benghazi back to Washington with the remains of Ambassador Chris Stevens ... Unfortunately, his portrayal of events often lacks compelling details. In the case of the bin Laden mission, he fails to describe his colleagues’ mood or reactions as they watched the drama unfold in the Situation Room ... succeeds in conveying the art and science of statecraft in very real terms.
... important ... The bulk of The Back Channel details the dramatic high points of Burns’ long career, but the clear animating force of the book is the author’s worry that all the behind-the-scenes labors of his friends and colleagues over the years have been summarily invalidated by an idiot in the Oval Office ... The stark nature of the warnings Burns issues about the Trump administration are the alarm-bells ringing in the background of an otherwise calm and personable memoir.
A resounding defense of American diplomacy and the need for negotiation in a non–zero-sum world ... Some of the most newsworthy elements of this book, in fact, involve how the State Department crafted a response to 9/11, if one that largely went ignored ... Excellent reading for students of contemporary geopolitics and recent American history.
Highly relevant ... [Burns'] sketches of his colleagues and counterparts are often generous with praise, but also incisive; readers may be particularly interested in his take on Vladimir Putin ... Burns’s work showcases an impressive combination of dedication, passion, and diligence, and persuasively demonstrates the 'quiet power' that diplomacy can have in world affairs. This is not to be missed.